It's a thankless job but somebody's got to do it – wed and bed the Nehru/Gandhis, that is. "I gave up my life for Priyanka, fighting every day to not be a celebrity," declares the nation's First Son-in-law in his latest media outing. It's been difficult, indeed. Given his multiple talents—most notably in fitness and cycling—Robert Vadra could have so easily been our very own Lance Armstrong, or at least Jane Fonda. The least the Gandhis can do is to reward their dutiful ghar jamaai with a Lok Sabha seat. And yet they demur with the wife herself publicly shooting down his modest ambitions.
Poor Robert. It's no fun being a Gandhi damaad, or bahu, for that matter.
For starters, it's an exercise in lifelong humiliation. Kamala was the uncultured hick bullied mercilessly by her sisters-in-law. Feroze was the upstart, first exiled and now memorialised as a troublemaker or, worse, as a sexual boor. Maneka was dismissed as a Delhi skank who snagged the bad brother, and Sonia, the dumb Italian waitress, who landed the other (and she remains so to this day).
In our adoring eyes, no one is ever good enough for our political royals.
With Vadra, the insults cued in the moment the impending nuptials were announced. What in the world could our beauteous Priyanka be thinking? Outlook's 1997 article begins on this auspicious note: "Businessman Robert Vadhera is unlikely to figure anywhere among the country's 1,000 most eligible bachelors. Priyanka Gandhi's 28-year-old beau is short, fair, rather stocky and only moderately well-to-do." It goes on to damn him with faint praise, describing him variously as "unremarkable man"; "an average student and not an outstanding sportsman"; and, most amusingly, as "a bit of a Puppy," and not of the canine kind. In other words, he was all crass, no class, and unlike his predecessors, not even easy on the eye.
His own friends in Moradabad were in shock: "We haven't stopped wondering what Priyanka could possibly see in the boy. There is nothing exceptional about him or the family." Ouch!
But cheer up, Robert. At least, no one's accused you of being an undercover Muslim whose rumoured exploits include making romantic advances on his future mother-in-law a la Feroze.
Worse, this constant public humiliation has to be endured in stoic silence. The golden rule of politics—spouses should be seen not heard—is sacred law in the Nehru/Gandhi family. Repeated violations can invite divine retribution. No wonder Sonia has a hard time unlearning the habits of a lifetime spent playing the family mute.
If speaking is a no-no, political ambition is a cardinal sin for outsiders; a biblical commandment Robert is either ignoring or has wilfully forgotten. Asked recently why he'd make a good politician, he replied, "I'm married into India's first family of politics. What do you think we talk about? I'm a good learner. Like business is in my blood, politics is in Priyanka's , and we're married."
Er, Robert, that's exactly why you can never be a politician. The family has a storied history of summarily ejecting offenders without a moment's notice. Nehru exiled Feroze for his antics in Parliament. Then it was off with Maneka, who was famously kicked out in the middle of the night for refusing to play the docile, grieving widow. The most a Gandhi-by-marriage can aspire for is to be appointed the official throne-warmer for the rightful heirs.
If rumours in Delhi circle of trouble in the Vadra household are accurate, Robert may well be next in line for ejection. This new-found verbosity bodes ill for the errant damaad who seems to have lost the weight and found his tongue. His growing biceps have instilled a soaring confidence that maybe somewhat misplaced.
"I am very determined, be it business or my fitness. I've lost 20 kg in five years. And in this much time, if I'd wanted to, I could have become a big celebrity. It's been a fight to stay normal," says Robert.
Well, if he wants to stay in the Gandhi family, he will just have to fight a wee bit harder.